There is no gainsaying the fact that virtually all sectors of the Nigerian economy, including the education sector are in urgent need of attention in terms of human and material resources. The infrastructure has broken down, there is serious security challenge in the northern part of the country while crude oil theft in the Niger Delta has resulted in the country losing over 300,000 barrels of crude daily, or an equivalent of $1 billion to oil thieves without any solution in sight.
But one that touches the common people most is the incessant closure of our universities whenever the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU embarks on strike, like it is currently doing. Though the plethora of problems facing the universities did not start with the present administration, the thinking in most quarters is that education sector needs a lot of boost to discourage the capital flight to other neighbouring African countries and overseas occasioned by Nigerians going outside to seek quality education.
This situation of gross neglect which has brought our education system to the abyss needs to be addressed if our youth could be properly prepared to take leadership roles in future. That education funding has been consigned to the backroom is the main grouse of the ASUU which has been on strike for sometime now, with a vow by its leadership to hold out for as long as the federal government desires, is bad for all stakeholders at this. One, therefore, wonders what the federal government wants to make of the universities it established if it continues to deny them of much needed funds for infrastructure and staff development.
At the last count, Nigeria could boast of 129 universities out of which 51 are privately, owned while 38 are operated by the various state governments, leaving the federal government with 40 universities across the land. It is, however, disturbing that there is no year that academic activities in the federal universities are not disrupted following one disagreement or the other between the federal government and ASUU on issues concerning the well-being of the institutions and by extension our youth who are the students therein.
It is, therefore, sad to note that despite efforts by the ASUU and other associated union, in the system to keep the flag flying, the federal government’s penchant for reneging on agreements reached with the union has been the bane of smooth, uninterrupted academic sessions which we are craving for.
The recent strike embarked upon by the ASUU is a case in point. The union feels short-changed because the federal government would not keep to the terms of an agreement it reached with it in 2009. Reports indicate that the current face-off between ASUU and the federal government was traceable to the latter’s failure to keep faith with the 2009 agreement which it merely did by honouring two out of the demands. It is instructive that the major demand of the university lecturers, the need to improve on the sectoral allocation to education in the annual budget to meet the minimum standard of 26 per cent, as stipulated by the UNESCO, has never been met.
The question which keeps recurring and needing speedy answers is why is, it difficult for the federal government to commit 26 per cent of its annual budget to the education sector, and why is the federal government toying with education in today’s knowledge-driven univers? Failure on the part of the federal government to do this has been the major justification of ASUU in calling out its members from the classrooms without any consideration of the ripple effect of its action on the students and the economy in general. But could ASUU be blamed for seeking to uplift our tertiary institutions from their current state of glorified secondary schools, to proper university status?
Taking into consideration that the agreements which the federal government failed to redeem were entered into in 2009, the ASUU may not be blamed in the current state of affairs, particular by if goings-on in government circles with regard to the revenue accruing to the federal government and disbursement of funds to sundry sectors, is anything to go by. This is why I am aligning myself with those who blame the government for relegating tertiary education. For instance, the average sectoral allocation to the sector between 2000 and 2010 is a paltry 8.12 per cent.
This is very appalling coming from a democratic civilian regime that is expected to do more for such an important sector than the military which allocated an average of 12.87 per cent of its annual budget to education between 1991 and 1996.
This is why students experienced a meteoric rise in fees in tertiary institutions across the country in 2010 which was a strategy adopted by the institutions in their bid to break even. It is thus saddening that the federal government attitude to tertiary education funding contributed to the fact that no Nigerian university could be found among the first 5000 in the world or the first 50 in Africa . All said, the need to boost tertiary education through adequate funding to arrest the on-going brain drain is an obligation that the government cannot run away from. Besides, if the quantum of resources Nigerians spend in seeking qualitative education for their children abroad is anything to go by then our education system is in dire need of a turn-around.
To boost funding for the education sector, the federal government could use a proportion of the excess crude oil revenue to settle the problems of a sector that is clearly the live wire of a progressive society. Treating the education sector otherwise could yield more cultists, armed robbers and kidnappers that help ensure the well-to-do in society sleep with one eye open.
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